Retrosuburbia by David Holmgren. Book Review.
There was a waiting list at the local library to borrow this book. When it was my turn to borrow it I could see why. In his book Retrosuburbia, David Holmgren has compiled decades of knowledge and tips on permaculture and has condensed it into a single book for those wishing to “downshift”, that is change your life from the fast paced consumer culture we’re all so familiar with, back to something a little slower and a little more considered.
I was daunted at first as I lugged this book home. The sheer size of it (think textbook/encyclopedia) made me feel a little overwhelmed at all there was to learn. But as I settled in with a cup of tea I soon realised that Holmgren’s relaxed style of writing draws you in and makes all the information readily digestible. The foreword from Costa Georgiadis of Gardening Australia fame was also a very welcoming start.
For anyone who has delved into permaculture literature before you will know that there tends to be a bias in the information being geared towards people who own their own homes and usually on a property of an acre or more. With this premise I had been beginning to be disillusioned with permaculture and it’s apparent need to be a homeowner. A difficult undertaking in Australia’s current housing climate. In Retrosuburbia however Holmgren turns that premise on it’s head. He presents practical, achievable tips for people in every stage of housing whether it be renting a small apartment or house, living in a share house or owning a house on a small block in the suburbs as the title suggests.
The main goal in Retrosuburbia is to help people become more resilient in a potentially volatile future. A future with energy shortages, collapsed housing markets and less access to quality food. In the beginning of the book Holmgren paints a picture of what suburban life was like in the past and what it could potentially be like in the future. It’s an eerie feeling reading his projections as we are starting to see some of them taking shape already such as the declining housing market in Australia and increasingly frequent extreme weather events.
The book is broken up into three sections, The Built, Biological and Behavioural fields. Each field provides suggestions and changes that individuals, families and communities can make to live a more resilient lifestyle. I found myself racing through the book, cover to cover as each chapter built on previous knowledge. At the same time though I was able to comfortably skip ahead to chapters when thoughts on a particular topic occurred and I wanted to see Holmgren’s take on it.
The book covers everything from setting up an edible home garden through to bushfire preparedness. There are suggestions for setting up home businesses through to suggestions to retrofit your house to make it more sustainable or to prepare it for intergenerational living. I found that section after section presented me with new ideas I couldn’t wait to share with Josh.
Reading Retrosuburbia left me feeling empowered at being a renter for the first time in the ten or so years I have been renting. Suddenly I was presented with a range of temporary changes I could make to live a life that is more sustainable and more resilient. It also presented me with the concept of working with landlords to make more permanent changes that would benefit them in improving the value of the home and benefit me in skills learnt and improved living conditions.
The book is also packed with additional reading that can be accessed using the Retrosuburbia website. The ease with which these reference materials could be accessed made for a much richer reading experience as I was able to instantly delve deeper on points of interest.
Overall this book is hugely empowering. Whilst it deals with heavy issues of energy descent and something of a societal collapse, the future it depicts is far from a bleak one. The downshifting lifestyle of having more time to spend with those you love doing work that you enjoy and that is fulfilling is certainly an appealing one. The practical and achievable steps presented make me so much more excited to take our first steps towards living a life more in line with the permaculture principles. I had to return this copy to the library but I feel that it is such a valuable text that I will definitely be seeking out a copy of my own.